July 2014


Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).

Stream Crossings: Where the Relentless Rationality of an Applied Physical System Intersects with Our Meandering Prairie Watercourses

Forty degrees north latitude, Kansas—Nebraska Territories boundary marker, 1855. (Michael Farrell)

By Michael Farrell

On May 8,1855, in the days before there were any bridges across the wide Missouri, a surveyor named Charles Manners and two teams of eight surveyors under contract to the US government crossed the already fabled and still untamed river in a canoe piloted by a local Native American tribal member. It took them several trips back and forth across the river to move the entire team and all their gear. On the last trip the canoe almost swamped and sank because it was overloaded down to the gunnels with a cast iron monument that weighed between five hundred and six hundred pounds. The surveyors noted in their records that only the considerable paddling skills of their Indian canoeist kept them from sinking.

Once the survey team and their gear were safely on the west side of the Missouri, they hauled the iron marker to a high bluff overlooking the river valley. After some searching they found a wooden post overgrown with weeds that had been erected the previous year to mark the place where the fortieth parallel of latitude intersects the Missouri.

Book Review: "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" by Elizabeth Kolbert

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

Title: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Elizabeth Kolbert has written an important and readable book, The Sixth Extinction. The book explores the concept of the “Anthropocene” Age—the age of the coming “sixth extinction,” which, she writes convincingly, will likely be caused by humans. Acknowledging the uniqueness of Homo sapiens, Kolbert identifies human curiosity and the will to explore as qualities that will ultimately drive many species to extinction. Human creativity, of course, has led to climate change, one of the current drivers of extinction.

Great Plains Art Museum Opens Exhibit on Contemporary Native American Art

By Katie Nieland

The Great Plains Art Museum opened a new exhibit titled “Contemporary Indigeneity: The New Art of the Great Plains” on June 1. The exhibit will run until July 27.

A blind jury of Plains researchers, conservationists, artists, and museum workers chose more than forty pieces of art that examine current Native American life and culture for inclusion in the show. Works chosen include sculpture, textiles, paint, crafts, and more.


Unpublished Journal
June 29, 1992

Tomorrow morning at six o’clock I crawl onto a Northwest Airlines plane in Omaha and, after changing planes twice—Minneapolis and Detroit—will arrive in Traverse City, Michigan, about one p.m. for a ten-day visit with my brother Ted and his wife, Cathy, at their summer home on Elk Lake. Either my planning wasn’t adequate or what happens is beyond planning (higher institutions of learning have courses in “planning”) because first—Richard Lindeberg, a first cousin and wife, Joanie; also Cora Jean, his sister, planned to be in Polk July 10 for a visit and meal at Coach’s Corner, and I had to write and tell him I wouldn’t be home until the 11th.

Book Review: "Farthest House" by Margaret Lukas

Review by Lopa Banerjee

Title: Farthest House
Author: Margaret Lukas
Publisher: WriteLife Publishing

On the third of May, 1960, a girl child is born in a home delivery filled with complications and questions. As she is miraculously “harvested,” her mother dies. In the opening chapter of Margaret Lukas’s debut novel, Farthest House, readers are transported to a tragic, moving, and suspenseful world of family secrets. The narrative, complex and lyrical from the start, becomes spine chilling the moment we know that it is told by none other than the spirit of Amelie-Anais, dead nineteen years. From the opening, the novel is a roller-coaster ride of powerful, unsettling emotions as the ghost narrates the account of the baby’s birth, connecting the story to her own life in eastern France and the Plains of Nebraska. The girl, named Willow, born with a minor physical handicap, instantly becomes the narrator’s focus, and the story moves forward from there in layers, recounting Willow’s transition from a helpless baby to a bewildered young woman and a passionate painter.

Seeds of Wisdom: The Perman Prescription: Diversified Agriculture Reverses Rural Depopulation and Is Better for the Land

North Creek on Rock Hills Ranch. (Peter Carrels)

By Peter Carrels

We’ve been raising cattle in the Swan Creek Valley for a long time,” said Lyle Perman when asked via telephone how long he’d been involved in agriculture. He stretched out the word “long” and articulated “the Swan Creek Valley” like someone who has for a lifetime emphasized a deeply felt “place” as a means to orient his life.

Perman’s Rock Hills Ranch straddles Swan Creek in south-central Walworth County, South Dakota, about forty-five miles south of the North Dakota border. The Missouri River’s artificial impoundment named Oahe is a dozen miles west, and through all that distance is a rolling, rangy landscape. East of the ranch the topography flattens out and opens up for fifty miles until it gets turbulent again, dropping like a gentle rapids built of bluffs and small hills before spilling into the James River lowlands. Some of Perman’s ranch land sits at two thousand feet above sea level. The floor of the James River valley is 1,290 or so.

Chuckleheads and the Art of Nonfishing

By Jack Phillips

On family outings in the 1960s curious bystanders watched my father fish. I thought his methods were normal; didn’t everyone practice catch-and release fly-fishing in Nebraska? In shallow, turgid rivers, for catfish? With barbless hooks? Sure, Nebraska had fly fishers, usually intent on the few clear streams stocked with non-native trout or the vacation waters of the Rockies. Even now, warm-water fly-fishing is a little eccentric. Bass and bluegills are the usually quarry, but to this day I have never encountered or even heard of another angler pursuing catfish with a fly rod in these parts. This is particularly surprising because the eastern Great Plains has one of the nation’s best warm and muddy fly-fishing rivers: the Nodaway in northwest Missouri.

UNL-AirLift Partnership Treats Contaminated Groundwater in Grand Island

By Steve Ress and Steve Comfort

Sometimes rather thorny and extensive groundwater contamination problems can be overcome with the right combination of innovation, experimentation, and partnership.

That’s what a researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources is hoping will provide a possible answer for cleaning up a large plume of contaminated groundwater just east of Grand Island.

Sand Hills Discovery Conference: The Year of the Horse

By Keevin Arent

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the year of the horse.

While dogs have been touted as man’s best friend and lions have long reigned as kings of the jungle, it almost seems that horses have been taken for granted in the scheme of human progress. Imagine being one of the fine steeds bearing the characters of Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, General George Armstrong Custer, Crazy Horse, or, even as recently as World War I, ceremoniously carrying General John J. Pershing. Herein would lay the seedbeds of great storytelling. There are surely plenty of old cowboy’s mounts from the Sandhills and surrounding areas of Nebraska with interesting tales and anecdotes beneath their saddle blankets.

Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary

By Paul A. Johnsgard

Over the first sixty-mile segment of the Niobrara National Scenic and Recreational River, the river makes a graceful bend south, reaching its southernmost point along the northern border of Rock County. There, about twelve miles northeast of Bassett, a new Audubon wildlife sanctuary is situated, like a green emerald set dangling below the blue necklace that is the Niobrara.

The sanctuary, nearly five thousand acres in expanse, is the remarkable gift of the late Harold Hutton, son of a prominent multigenerational homesteading family and a rancher, author, and entrepreneur. Harold was also a lover of nature and decided that he would like to have his land preserved as a nature sanctuary after his death. He initially approached the National Audubon Society, which proved to be unwilling to promise that the land might not be ultimately sold. Luckily, Harold found a willing and interested listener in the form of Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas.

Listening to the Future: Omaha Public Power District Works on Maintaining Clean, Renewable Energy

By John Atkeison and Bruce E. Johansen 

Omaha Public Power District is Nebraska’s leader in the use of wind power to make electricity, and thanks to a decision by its board of directors, it has maintained the ability to retain that ranking. On June 19 the OPPD board unanimously adopted a plan that maintains a level of clean renewable energy power equal to at least one-third of its generated electricity for twenty years, among other things.

The board and management was responding to years of hearing from the customer-owners of Omaha Public Power District, to regulation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the encroaching reality of climate changes caused by global warming, a major cause of which is the greenhouse gas pollution produced in the process of making electricity.

Poor Boys at the Hoedown: One Hundred Years of Nebraska Farmers Union, Unauthorized and Unabridged, Part Three

By Sally J. Herrin, PhD

Milo Reno called the American Farm Bureau “the bastard child of the railroad trust and the Chamber of Commerce.” The enormous early success of the cooperative elevators, livestock commissions, exchanges, insurance, and other ventures cut US business monopolies to the quick, as co-op market share increased rapidly in every sector. Desperate to derail the cooperative movement, the US Chamber of Commerce and the railroads, with the complicity of the USDA (which preferred to deal with a more docile farm organization than Farmers Union), invented the AFB as a rival farm organization with a vague and watered-down mission statement similar to, but lacking the edge of, Farmers Union. Today, the Farm Bureau is supported by mandatory dues from its enormous insurance operation—six million members claimed, though US farmers number less than two million. Today the Farm Bureau continues to confound farmers with counterproductive political recommendations and rhetoric. Along with many check-off funded commodity organizations such as the Cattlemen and National Corn Growers, the Farm Bureau at both the state and national level effectively serves the interest of food processors, some of the largest and most powerful multinational corporations on earth.

Immigration in Nebraska

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